What Is Spiritual Burnout

Burnout is defined as a state of physical or emotional depletion caused by prolonged stress. You're at high risk of burnout if you're under pressure to commit more energy than you have, and this toll continues over time.

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We'd like to talk about a different type of burnout: spiritual burnout. When you take on too much spiritual work without giving your spirit time to rest, process, and grow, you will experience this. Often, this entails filling your calendar with workshops and webinars, devouring self-help books, and devoting a significant portion of your social life to discussing spiritual concepts or experiences. By all means, we encourage you to explore and sustain an active spiritual life, but spirituality is, at its core, about living in harmony with your own soul and the Universe. The trick is to maintain a sense of equilibrium.

Spiritual burnout is vital to recognize and avoid since it clouds your vision, drains your inner energy, and, in extreme circumstances, can lead to a complete abandonment of your convictions. Understanding the difference between feeling challenged and the early indicators of burnout is the first step toward recognition. A state of activation is referred to as a challenge. When we are confronted with a difficult situation, our spiritual ego springs into action.

Deactivation signals, such as burnout, are a state of deactivation. You withdraw from yourself and your greater power after periods of severe stress.

  • Spiritual skepticism (“I'm not sure I believe in God if something like this could happen.)

Spiritual burnout is caused by a variety of circumstances, including personal, social, occupational, and communal influences.

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Perfectionists are frequently at the root of personal reasons. You may not be allowing yourself the time to walk a spiritual path in a way that supports you if you expect yourself to be perfect or if you are seeking a major spiritual shift in your life.

Friends and relatives can provide social aspects. Is there somebody in your life who has big hopes for you? Do you get advise from a lot of different people? It could be time for you to clarify your beliefs and ask for some time to do so.

Messages from your place of worship or spiritual gurus are examples of community factors. It's fine to take a break if you feel like the lessons you're learning or taking in are moving too quickly or are too large for you to handle all at once.

To begin with, lighten your baggage. If you lower your stress during the process, you will move much further and more meaningfully in the long term.

Make your spiritual practice personal and compassionate by choosing a time of day when you have some solitary time. It might be ten minutes of meditation or a quick prayer and journaling before bed. Perhaps it's as simple as expressing thanks each night before dinner. There are a variety of low-stress ways to connect with and be uplifted by your spirituality.

Take a look at your lifestyle and how your beliefs integrate into your daily life if the indicators of spiritual fatigue resonate with you. How do you achieve more equilibrium so that you can handle the stress of an emotionally hard breakthrough or a powerful physical reaction?

Above all, find a support system of friends, family, and leaders with whom you can communicate. We are global citizens who live in small towns. We are fortunate that, at the end of the day, we are all human beings who will never have to face this wonderful life alone.

What are the symptoms of burnout?

Most of us have days when we feel useless, overworked, or unappreciated, and getting out of bed requires Herculean strength. However, if you feel this way all of the time, you may be burned out.

Burnout happens over time. It isn't something that happens over night, but it might sneak up on you. The signs and symptoms are mild at first, but they worsen over time. Consider the early signs as warning signs that something is amiss and needs to be addressed. You can avoid a serious collapse if you pay attention and actively lessen your stress. You'll eventually burn out if you disregard them.

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What is an example of burnout?

Many of us know someone who has been forced to leave their job due to burnout. But, exactly, what are these signs and symptoms? What's the difference between burnout, “regular” exhaustion, and depression, anyway?

Herbert Freudenberger, an American psychologist, created the word “burnout” in the 1970s. He used it to illustrate the effects of lofty aspirations and excessive stress in “helping” professions. Doctors and nurses, for example, who put themselves in harm's way for others are frequently “burned out” – fatigued, listless, and unable to cope. The term is now used to describe more than just these helping professions or the dark side of self-sacrifice. It can impact everyone, from busy employees and homemakers to stressed-out career-driven professionals and celebrities.

Surprisingly, experts disagree on what constitutes burnout. This has repercussions: It's also impossible to say how often burnout is because it's unclear what it is and how to detect it.

What is ministry burnout?

You assist in the care of the church as a pastor. But who will look after you? Unfortunately, the responsibility is still frequently assigned to pastors. So, how can you and other leaders in your congregation avoid the stress and burnout that typically comes with church leadership positions?

Be aware.

Burnout is defined as “a state of physical, emotional, or mental tiredness paired with questions about your competency and the worth of your work,” according to the Mayo Clinic. This phenomena isn't confined to religious beliefs. In fact, according to the New York Times, clergy suffer from many of the same maladies that plague high-stress corporate leaders, including obesity, hypertension, depression, and even shorter life expectancy. Furthermore, fatigue can result in marital failures and moral transgressions. The sad reality is that many, if not all, pastors have or will experience burnout at some point during their careers. In reality, while most people are satisfied with their work, religious leaders face burnout to the point where 70-80 percent have pondered leaving the ministry.

That shouldn't come as a surprise, though. After all, you must continuously prioritize the needs of others before your own. “On average, United Methodist clergy spend 56.2 hours per week in ministry and 12 evenings per month away from home on church obligations,” according to a research on mental health issues among clergy. You're coping with situations that are draining you emotionally, physically, cognitively, and spiritually.

And you, more than anybody else, are well aware that clergy are not gods. As a result, you are vulnerable to the effects of such stress. Spiritual caregivers must also take care of themselves, just as caretakers must. Here are a few important strategies to avoid burnout.

Be diligent about rest.

Rest entails more than eight hours of sleep per night. While that can be challenging in and of itself, many pastors find it even more difficult to take regularly scheduled days off, keep a weekly Sabbath day for themselves, or take time off for holidays and vacations. You may consider time off to be a luxury you can't afford due to the constant demand for your attention.

Downtime, on the other hand, is a crucial approach to promote your personal health and well-being. You would never propose that a person working in a secular job labor without constraints if you were counseling them. In fact, you'd probably advise doing the exact opposite – establishing boundaries. The same can be said for you and everyone else participating in faith-based ministries.

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Consider a rotation of responsibilities. Perhaps you and another minister in your congregation could alternate weekends to cover emergencies, just as doctors do. Find someone to cover for you on your day off, at the very least.

Important dates and hours should be blocked out. Your partner is significant. Your children are valuable. Make a date night reservation on your calendar. Make time to attend your child's piano performance or baseball game. Set the phone to silent mode. For such instances, record a suitable message and leave a backup contact.

Make a list of what you want to do with your time. Learn to tell the difference between situations that require immediate attention and those that can wait. Be kind and compassionate, but make it clear to your congregation that you, too, need personal time.

Schedule vacations on a regular basis. Do not book a wedding or any other obligation at that time, no matter how much pressure you may feel to do so. Vacations do not occur by chance. Plan holidays if you want to avoid pastor burnout.

Make a Sabbath day for yourself. Sundays will clearly not be peaceful for you, so choose a day during the week when you will not be performing any typical job-related tasks. Notify the church staff that you will only be called in an emergency. Spend time resting, winding down, and worshipping to re-energize and prepare for the week ahead.

Be ready to delegate.

Pastors are frequently frightened that if they do nothing, nothing will get done. You may feel compelled to beat everyone at every hospital bedside, funeral home visitation, graduation, and function. While you don't want to miss a chance to help someone who is in need, and you like celebrating life's wonderful milestones with your congregation, you can't do these things on your own. To prevent forgetting persons in need, delegate responsibilities or organize buddy-type programs. Find someone who can assist you with things like visitation, letter writing, and other activities. Remember that individuals enjoy helping others and would gladly volunteer.

Furthermore, you must recognize that every responsibility is not necessarily your responsibility. Planaccordingly. If you are in charge of your church's Sunday school program, you may believe it is your job to cover for an absent instructor. This can quickly become tedious and daunting, but it doesn't have to be. Plan how you'll handle a situation like this before you get there. Is it possible to give instructors the task of finding their own replacements? Could you compile a list of people willing to offer to fill in for teachers in the event of an emergency? In most circumstances, there is a better option than expecting you to handle everything. It only takes a little planning and the ability to say “no.”

Be proactive.

You must look after yourself in every way possible. Nobody else can or will do it if you don't. If you wait until the stress of your job has a bad affect on your mind, body, or soul, you won't be much good to your family or congregation.

Look for help. Find someone to hold you accountable, someone who will pray for and with you, and with whom you can share. Schedule regular lunches or meetings with your coworkers to discuss how you're dealing with stress and the demanding nature of your job.

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Maintain a healthy lifestyle. Taking care of one's body is one way leaders invest in themselves. GeorgeAmbler, a leadership blogger, writes: “The greatest method to produce the energy needed to sustain leadership is to exercise regularly and eat a nutritious diet. According to research, being physically active offers numerous advantages, including enhanced creativity, clarity of thought, confidence, and emotional control, all of which are important for effective leadership.” So schedule regular checkups. Maintain a healthy dietary regimen. Create a regular exercise routine.

Make time for spiritual nourishment. Look for opportunities to sit in on another spiritual advisor's teaching. Perhaps you could go to a service at another United Methodist church on a weeknight or attend a special service when your own church isn't meeting. You can also join online or listen to audiomessages at your leisure.

Make your requirements known. Don't be afraid to express your concerns and needs to other leaders and members of the congregation. Many people want to help, but they don't know how.

Take advantage of activities honoring pastors. Pastors and their spouses are occasionally invited to special gatherings hosted by churches or other groups. Look for and take advantage of such deals, and don't be hesitant to ask for the family discount at other events if it isn't publicized.

“The most essential investment you can make as a leader is an investment in yourself,” Ambler adds. You are the most valuable asset you have.” Ministers need to be ministered to. Teachers must be educated. Deacons, elders, and other church leaders require the same level of service, encouragement, and love as the rest of the congregation. Consider it smart stewardship since faith leaders are a vital resource to the church. Make sure you look after yourself.

What are the three symptoms of burnout?

People frequently associate “burnout” with being overworked and exhausted, but burnout is far more complex than simply being busy or stressed.

Burnout is a syndrome that develops as a result of unmanaged persistent working stress, according to the World Health Organization. Burnout is defined by three symptoms: feelings of weariness or depletion of energy, pessimism or cynicism about your job, and a reduction in professional efficacy.

What are the 5 stages of burnout?

Previously, an American psychologist named Herbert Freudenberger classified burnout into 12 stages. This was later condensed into a five-stage variant, as shown below.

Honeymoon phase

The Honeymoon stage is the first of three stages (Figure 1). It's especially important when starting new jobs or taking on new projects and activities. There are no symptoms of burnout at this point; instead, you are full of excitement, devotion, and enjoyment from your work. You are an extremely productive person who takes on every assignment and opportunity that comes your way in order to give it your all. You are creative, optimistic, and full of energy, and you may take on more than you should in order to demonstrate your abilities (3).

This stage is fantastic, and staying here indefinitely would be ideal! When you're in this stage, however, be cautious. The risky part of the honeymoon phase is that if you don't avoid overworking and develop techniques to wind down and obtain rest on a regular basis, you can find yourself in the following stage before you realize it.

Onset of Stress

When you progressively notice that some days are more stressful than others, you go to the next step. You don't have time for your personal needs, and you're spending less time with your family and friends. It's possible that your job will become the most significant aspect of your life (1). Some early indicators of stress may concern you, such as difficulty concentrating, headaches, anxiety, changes in appetite, and even elevated blood pressure, to mention a few (3).

Chronic Stress

Chronic stress develops when you are exposed to excessive amounts of stress on a regular basis. As a result, your problem-solving abilities and performance deteriorate even more, and you begin to feel powerless and out of control. Your efforts do not appear to be yielding the same positive effects as they were previously. You may postpone to avoid dealing with the stress of your tasks. You may not be appreciated or recognized for your accomplishments, which can lead to feelings of inadequacy and failure (1).

Chronic stress has an adverse effect on your mental and physical health, aggravating the symptoms listed in stage 2. You might notice that you're getting sick more frequently now. Additionally, you may not seem to be able to control your emotions as effectively as you formerly did. Even minor events can make you irritable, bitter, or depressed. You can deny the issues and isolate yourself from coworkers and social activities (1). In extreme instances, some people may resort to self-medicating with alcohol or narcotics in order to cope with their bad emotions.

How do you fix emotional burnout?

You can assist lessen the symptoms of emotional tiredness by making some lifestyle modifications. These tactics will be difficult to use at first, but they will get easier as you develop healthy habits.

Small modifications in your daily routine can aid in the management of your symptoms and the prevention of emotional burnout.

Eliminate the stressor

While this isn't always possible, the greatest strategy to deal with stress is to get rid of the source of it. Consider changing jobs or organizations if your work environment is the source of your emotional tiredness. If your supervisor or manager is giving you stress, you may want to consider transferring to a different department or asking to be assigned to a different manager.

Eat healthy

Eating healthy is eating a well-balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean meats while avoiding sugary snacks, fried foods, and processed foods.

We're always urged to eat well, but it may make a huge impact when you're stressed. It will not only help you obtain the vitamins and minerals you need, but it will also enhance your digestion, sleep, and energy levels, all of which can have a positive impact on your mood.


Endorphins and serotonin levels are increased by any type of physical activity. This has the potential to boost your emotional condition. Exercise can also help you forget about your concerns. Even if it's simply a lengthy stroll, try to exercise for 30 minutes every day.

Limit alcohol

Although alcohol may briefly improve your mood, the effect will fade rapidly, leaving you more nervous and unhappy than before. Alcohol also makes it difficult to sleep.

Get enough sleep

Sleep is essential for mental well-being. It'll be even more successful if you schedule your bedtime for the same time each night. Every night, try to get eight to nine hours of sleep. Establishing a bedtime ritual can help you relax and get better sleep. Limiting your caffeine intake can also help you get a better night's sleep.

Practice mindfulness

Mindfulness is a concept you've certainly heard a lot, but it's much more than a passing fad. They've been scientifically proven to relieve stress and anxiety, and they could be the secret to emotional balance.

The act of engaging with the present moment is known as mindfulness. This can assist you in diverting your attention away from bad thoughts. Mindfulness can be practiced in a variety of ways. Here are several examples:

Researchers recently discovered evidence that a single mindfulness meditation session can help the body reverse the consequences of stress.

Connect with a trusted friend

Face-to-face conversation with a friend is an excellent method to de-stress. The person who is listening does not have to solve your problems. They can simply be an attentive listener. A trusted family member or acquaintance can listen without passing judgment.

If you don't have somebody close by, see if your workplace has an employee help program that includes therapy.

Meet with a professional

To alleviate emotional weariness, it's vital to seek professional support in addition to adopting lifestyle modifications. A expert, such as a therapist, can provide you with the resources you need to get through a difficult time. Professionals employ a variety of strategies, including:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), commonly known as talk therapy, is a type of psychotherapy.

Talk to your family doctor

Your health care provider may recommend drugs to help you manage your symptoms in some circumstances. Emotional tiredness has been treated with antidepressants, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), anti-anxiety drugs, and prescription sleeping aids.

Benzodiazepines, for example, can be addictive and should only be used for a short period of time to avoid dependency or addiction.

Is burnout a mental illness?

We can zero in on treatment once we've figured out how to diagnose a medical problem. I've been discussing burnout with my patients for years, and now that the definition has been updated, we have a fresh opportunity to educate patients about their work-related issues.

Understanding burnout, according to Cheung, entails being able to separate it from other mental health issues. Workplace functioning can be harmed by psychological problems such as depression, anxiety, and panic attacks, but burnout is a result of working too much.

“Burnout is a condition induced by an individual's employment, and their relationship with their work may contribute to this condition,” she explains. Burnout therapies should focus on improving the relationship between an individual and their work, she adds, so having this information is critical.

With the WHO's new definition of burnout, a public health crisis that's sweeping the country can get a lot of attention. This move, perhaps, will verify people's symptoms and pain.

Redefining burnout also paves the way for organizations such as hospitals, schools, and enterprises to implement workplace changes that can help prevent burnout in the first place.

How long does a burnout last?

Burnout isn't necessarily manifested as agonizing desperation. Feeling cynical about the way your life is going, the conviction that nothing you do counts, and a persistent sense of helplessness are all indicators of burnout. You could say:

  • Heart palpitations, shortness of breath, frequent headaches, or insomnia are some of the physical symptoms you may be experiencing.

Burnout can make you feel as though the universe is conspiring against you. You may believe that your situation is “rigged,” that you're being crushed by the huge weight of that dreadful thing we call “life.”

To start the healing process, you'll need to understand the cues your body and mind send you when you're on the verge of losing control.

Remember when you were a kid and the world appeared bright and hopeful?

However, you may feel as if you're still trapped in the same location after years of grinding. Your excitement, charisma, and passion are dragged into a black hole, replaced by cynicism, pessimism, irritation, and paralyzing self-doubt.

Why do pastors get burned out?

Burnout is a very real possibility in pastors and church leadership, just like it is in any other caring profession.

“We simply can't go on like this any longer! We're completely exhausted and haven't taken a break in over a year. We're overburdened; there's always more work than we can handle – the need is great, but we're exhausted. We feel like such failures, and it's affecting our health and family life. For the past eight years, we've been in ministry. I'm on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and it's difficult to say no to an urgent need. Leadership is a lonely position – who can you turn to for advice? “Is it possible that I'm not coping or that I require assistance?”

These are very common statements made by pastors and leaders in Christian churches nowadays. Despite advances in technology and communication, higher quality of life, and greater access to knowledge, there are more cases of depression, stress, and dysfunction than ever before. People say they feel alone and unprepared to function in today's world. How much more terrible when leaders in care professions and pastoral responsibilities are involved.

According to a 2013 survey by the Schaeffer Institute, 1,700 pastors leave the ministry each month due to despair, burnout, or being overworked.

According to the study, 90% of pastors work 55 to 70 hours per week, and 50% of them believe they are unable to satisfy the demands of the profession.

Pastoring, according to Brian Dodd, has one of the top three suicide rates of any vocation. He chastises the crowd for failing to support their trustworthy leaders. He argues that members who complain and are often impolite add to the tension and have unrealistic expectations of their pastors.

Reasons for Pastoral Burnout

Carry each other's loads, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ… AND each one should carry their own load, according to Galatians 6: 2 & 5.

To put it another way, it is scriptural to assist others. The issue, however, is to relieve the individual's “burden,” which is the “more-than-they-can-handle” weight of life, while yet holding them responsible for their own load, which is their “God-given-responsibility.”

Combating Burnout

Here are some helpful hints for pastors and church leaders who are experiencing burnout:

  • Eat a well-balanced diet with the optimal protein/carb/fiber ratios and portion control.
  • Delegate – especially those that aren't your strong suit. Provide leaders with the necessary skills to complete the task and share responsibility. Rotate menial chore responsibilities and look for opportunities to train new assistants.
  • No, you can't. God does not always grant our requests; in certain cases, the no is intended to assist people in their growth.
  • Have a big referral basis so that the pastoral care burden can be shared – especially if you're a small independent church with few resources. Make use of community resources as well as government or private-sector assistance. Know your local kingdom family and local ministries, especially if they are from other denominations.
  • Connect with other pastors, clergy, or leaders, and look into leadership training for yourself or your church members.
  • Rest and recharge — even God took a break after creating the world. You're breaking one of the ten commandments if you don't take a day off every week.

Rick Warren examines Elijah's tale and how he became burned out after successfully completing God's challenge to the four hundred Baal prophets, which resulted in the nation's return to faith in God. Elijah was worn and depleted, so when the queen threatened his life, he fled to safety and begged God to put an end to it all (1 Kings 19:5-8). Elijah's burnout was treated by God by allowing him to eat and sleep.

For resolving the anxiety and resuming leadership duties, Warren suggests the following strategies:

  • Release – Telling God about your fears and disappointments shows that you have faith in Him to handle your emotions. God tells Elijah twice to “tell Him what's on his heart” (1 Kings 19: 9-19). God can handle everything we throw at Him and isn't surprised or taken aback by it.
  • 1 Kings 19:11 – Refocus on God. Take your gaze away from your difficulty and toward God. God adored Elijah so much that He sent many storms to demonstrate His majesty and strength. When we try to be God, we get burned out.

According to John Eldridge, there are two sorts of prayer. The first is a heartfelt scream that frees God to do what he wants in our life, while the second is a prayer of authority and spiritual battle. Both types of prayer are based on the Christian principle of submission to Jesus: “You can do nothing apart from me” (John 15:4-5).

Praying with intention on a daily basis and listening for God's instruction are both empowering and effective ways to pray. Joining a prayer group and discussing how God is working RIGHT NOW can help you focus solely on the tasks that God has placed on your heart.

Christian Counselling

Through prayer and therapy, as a Christian Counsellor, I can assist pastors and church leadership in overcoming burnout and living an enriching life in God. Through the Search for Significance program (A. Meyers), I have training and experience as a facilitator in women's healing ministry, as well as a Certificate 4 in Pastoral Care. I understand the difficulties of expressing and exercising faith amid the often complicated and contradictory responsibilities and concerns we encounter on a daily basis.

As a mother and professional, I'm used to juggling duties, time management, and relationships while dealing with the joys and burdens of a growing family. I can listen to your fears, concerns, and beliefs, as well as explore where you are in your relationship with God, debunk myths about shame and guilt, and discuss ways to develop your faith.

Fear, betrayal, sadness, and fury are all powerful emotions that can lead to bitterness and hatred. This, in turn, can sabotage your faith, erode your confidence, paralyze you, or generate Dis-­Ease. Talking about your concerns in a safe, respectful setting might help you find purpose and value in your life within the context of your faith.

Julie Fickel, RN, PG Cert Health Science, PG Dip Midwifery, Cert 4 T & A, Cert 4 Pastoral Care is the author of this article.

Julie is a seasoned Christian Counsellor, and she and her husband are well-versed in the joys and tribulations of church leadership. Julie is a midwife who has taken further training in counseling for a variety of women's concerns, including birth trauma, menopause, intimacy, and post-natal depression, in addition to Christian counseling.

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